KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: A feasibility study into expanding the 2022 World Cup finals to 48 teams has come up with limited but financially alluring possibilities to set before FIFA Council later this week.
The study, details of which have been leaked in Europe and South America, suggests that designated host Qatar could manage the expansion from 32 teams only with the help of a neighbouring country.
This is where complications cut in.
FIFA has identified five possible ‘extra’ countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
However Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are involved in an ongoing political and commercial dispute with Qatar which has included the cutting of all flight connections.
The report concedes: “As it currently stands, the nature of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s relations with Qatar is such that it would be challenging to organise a co-hosted tournament between Qatar and one or more of these countries.
“Candidate co-hosts would need to be regarded as sufficiently cooperative. Such co-hosts would not sanction or boycott economically or otherwise any other potential co-host country, including the main host, Qatar.”
Excluding the trio leaves Kuwait and Oman but Oman does not have a stadium which meets the minimum 40,000 capacity for group matches at a World Cup.
The advantage to FIFA of expansion – which depends upon Qatari agreement – is financial in terms of a potential extra $400m revenue. This would be derived by $121.8m from TV rights, $158.4m in sponsorship, $89.9m in ticket sales, $20m in hospitality packages and $10m from licensing agreements.
The financial aspect is crucial to the credibility of FIFA president Gianni Infantino. He was voted into office three years ago on promises to expand the World Cup and quadruple development investment. Infantino stands unopposed for re-election in June.
The possibility of a World Cup expansion is viewed with most concern among European leagues and clubs who are already upset about the disruption inevitable from the unique winter staging of the 2022 finals in November and December.
Europe provides the vast majority of players in the World Cup squads and even more clubs would be affected by the increasing number of national teams heading to expanded finals.
FIFA, as a counter, has insisted that a 48-team World Cup can still be held in a window of 28 days by playing up to six games a day in the group stage. In last year’s finals in Russia the maximum number of matches in one day was four.
If FIFA Council agrees to expansion in Miami on Friday then FIFA will consult Qatar and a final proposal would be submitted for rubber-stamping by congress in Paris in June.